So far, my success at tomato gardening has run the full gamut from near total failure last year to an almost burdensome success this year, each time with just a few plants.
Last fall my tomato babies seemed to grow and thrive, produced abundant flowers, but never any tomatoes. I pulled the barren plants out of the ground just before the first freeze, only to discover that there actually were four lonely little green tomatoes. I let my harvest sit out on the kitchen counter and they did eventually ripen. We celebrated those little tomatoes by giving them center stage on a couple of salads and that was that, end of tomato season 2013.
So I had modest expectations for this year’s crop, but I was determined to give it another go. Our friends, Chris and Louise, had found a nursery they really liked and called one spring day to say they were buying gorgeous big bedding plants for $2 each, did I want some. I asked for four and left them to pick some interesting-looking options. I ended up with a Lemon Boy, a Pineapple [tomato], Sweet 100, and Black Krim. Then a neighbor of theirs gifted them with a couple of mystery plants and they passed one on to me.
The Pineapple Tomato will definitely find a place in the garden next year, but I think I’m going to abandon trying to grow tomatoes in pots — it’s just too hard to keep them moist enough in our summer heat. The few fruits we had were beautiful and very tasty, but very small — about the size of a ping-pong ball — even though I read that it should normally produce unusually large tomatoes, so I think it was my failure as a container gardener. We’ll see what happens next year.
The Black Krim was initially a success, also producing a healthy plant and pretty, very flavorful tomatoes. But one day it simply died. Dried up completely (notwithstanding being watered along with the rest of them) and that was that.
But the remaining three grew into a spectacular tangle of tomatoes, creating the very definite goal for next year to figure out a better way of staking them than the standard cheapie metal tomato cages which were only marginally better than useless. And now as we approached our first forecasted freeze and possible snow (neither of which seems like it’s going to come to pass after all) I pulled everything out yesterday, harvesting three full flats of tomatoes from just the two plants, and a bunch of both ripe and green cherry tomatoes.
At that I didn’t even bother with probably nearly as many tomatoes as I actually harvested — those that just seemed too small and hard to expect that they’d turn into anything tasty — and, conversely, I discovered many that had already over-ripened and those I just left on the ground to self-compost over the winter. (Part of the problem of the insufficiently staked-up plants was how easily the ripe tomatoes could hide underneath the dense crush of foliage. I hated that I missed out on some of the largest and prettiest fruits!)
While the main task now is simply waiting for the green fruit to ripen, there were still enough ready-to-use that this weekend’s focus (aside from the first batch of pumpkin yesterday) is tomatoes. First I sliced an entire tray of the Sweet 100s and let them slow roast in a low oven (250°) for several hours. (Just drizzle a little olive oil on them, sprinkle lightly with good quality salt, and prepare yourself for total deliciousness.) Part of them went into our dinner and part are still in the fridge for future use.
Next I quartered a lot of the larger riper tomatoes, along with a few cloves of garlic and a couple of onions, and threw all that into the slow-cooker. Six or seven hours later I had a cooked-down mess that just needed a quick attack with the immersion blender to be rich, flavorful tomato sauce. We just put the whole container in the fridge last night, so today I’ll portion it out into canning jars and freeze a few and keep one or two in the fridge for use in the next week. It did occur to me this morning that I had missed out on the opportunity to make a completely yellow sauce, so I’ve got another batch in the slow-cooker now that’s all Lemon Boys. We’ll see.
I did a lot of research (thank you, internet) on ripening green tomatoes and the consensus seems to be just basically leave ’em be. There’s all sorts of exotic suggestions ranging from wrapping each individual tomato in newspaper to pulling the entire plant with fruit still attached and hanging it upside down in the garage and one of my favorite bloggers takes a bit of a middle road by putting them in paper bags and I’ve never found Kevin’s advice to be anything other than great. But that’s even too much work for me, partly because they go into an “out of sight, out of mind” status which almost guarantees I’ll forget them and lose them all. So I’m just sticking with the most basic approach and will report back later with results. I have high expectations!
One surprising thing I learned in my research was that — contrary to my experience growing up with the kitchen window-sill always full of tomatoes — tomatoes don’t really want to be left in the sun to ripen. It’s said to toughen their skins, go figure. And, not surprisingly, the temperature will have the expected effect on how quickly they ripen (cooler = slower) so you can “manage” your ripening crop at least a bit by where you store them.
Wherever you put them, just don’t forget to check them every few days and pull out ripe ones, keeping a sharp eye out as well for any that show signs of decay. And I figure, even if you lose a few of them, you still ended up with a boat-load more tomatoes than if you’d simply tossed ‘me all into the green bin (or the compost pile) from the beginning, right?